Madeleine Symons: Social and Penal Reformer and Trade Unionist

Madeleine Symons, c. 1924. Courtesy Emma Corbett

Madeleine Symons, c. 1924. Courtesy Emma Corbett

Guest blogger Martin Ferguson Smith writes about Madeleine Symons and the use he made of the TUC Library Collections when researching her for his book Madeleine Symons: Social and Penal Reformer, published on 27 October 2017 by SilverWood Books, Bristol, ISBN 978-1-78132-719-7 (paperback), 978-1-78132-748-7 (ebook). Martin is an emeritus professor at Durham University and has a website at

Madeleine Jane Symons – Robinson after her marriage in 1940 – had a privileged upbringing. Born in 1895 to wealthy parents, she was educated at a private boarding school and Newnham College, Cambridge. But from the time she left university until her death in 1957, she worked tirelessly to improve the lot of those who were less fortunate than herself.

In her last year at Newnham she was president of its Society for Women’s Suffrage. In May 1916, just before she completed her studies, the Society was addressed by Susan Lawrence on the position of women in industry during the war and on the need to extend trade union membership among women. A few weeks later Madeleine became an officer in the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) and its sister organisation, the National Federation of Women Workers (NFWW). Lawrence was one of her senior colleagues. Others included Mary Macarthur, general secretary of the WTUL, Gertrude Tuckwell, president of the NFWW, Margaret Bondfield, and Jimmy Mallon. Madeleine soon gained a reputation for being an outstandingly successful negotiator. To Macarthur she became not only an invaluable colleague, but also a close friend, and, after Macarthur’s early death on 1 January 1921, she was much involved with the care of Macarthur’s young daughter, Nancy Anderson.

On 28 July 1925 Madeleine turned thirty and became eligible to vote for the first time. It is quite a thought that by that time she had not only been a trade union officer for nine years, but also served on the executive committee of the Labour Party, as a Justice of the Peace, and as a member of the Royal Commission on Lunacy and Mental Disorder.

The following year, her trade union career was ended by pregnancy and unmarried motherhood. Her lover and the father of her daughter was Jimmy Mallon, a married man and the warden of Toynbee Hall. He had been a professional colleague of hers since 1916. Madeleine adopted the child in 1927 and, two years later, adopted a boy, of whom she was not the biological mother. When she returned to public life in 1932, it was as a juvenile magistrate in London. For the next twenty-five years she gave outstanding service not only to the juvenile courts, but also to the Howard League for Penal Reform and other welfare organisations and to the work of departmental committees.

With my daughter, Lucinda Smith, an archives assistant, I had the privilege of spending a day and a half in the TUC Library Collections in January 2016, investigating Madeleine’s career, mainly the earlier part of it. I am most grateful for the kind permission to do this, and for the expert guidance of Jeff Howarth, Academic Liaison Librarian.

The research was concentrated on three collections:

1. The WTUL Minute Books, 1911-1921, catalogue no. HD 6079. The first mention of Madeleine is in the minutes of an executive committee meeting on 8 November 1917. Her “excellent work … in the matter of negotiations with firms etc” was reported, and it was agreed that she be invited to join the EC. From January 1919 on, there are frequent references to her efforts to improve the pay and conditions of many groups of women workers, including laundresses, waitresses, and makers of tinned foods, aerated water, tin boxes, safety pins, perambulators, and umbrellas. In the summer of 1921 the WTUL ceased to exist. The minutes of the EC meeting of 26 May 1921 record its agreement that the work of the WTUL be carried on by the Parliamentary Committee of the TUC. Several months earlier, in early February, the NFWW had amalgamated with the National Union of General Workers, with Margaret Bondfield becoming chief secretary of the Women Workers’ Section and Madeleine its assistant secretary and head negotiator.

2. The Gertrude Tuckwell Papers, especially catalogue no. 701, a valuable collection of press cuttings that includes many items relating to Madeleine’s trade union work in the years 1918-1920. The cuttings sometimes confirm and often supplement information in the WTUL minute books. They document not only Madeleine’s efforts on behalf of poorly paid or unemployed women workers, but also her participation in delegations and conferences and her concern about the situation in Europe after WW1.

3. The Mary Macarthur Holiday Trust Archive, specifically Minute Books 001 and 003 and Folder 006. Very soon after Macarthur’s death, her close colleagues decided that the most appropriate way to honour her memory was to establish a holiday home for working women. Its patroness was Queen Mary, who had long taken an active interest in the problems of the poor and in women’s employment. Madeleine was a member of the Committee of Management and assistant honorary secretary. She left the Committee in 1928, but returned in 1934 and thereafter was closely involved in its work for most of the rest of her life, from December 1949 as chairman.

The contributions Madeleine made to the women’s trade union movement during and after WW1 and to the promotion of social justice and penal reform throughtout her adult life were significant and admirable, but until now have been largely overlooked. The material about her in the TUC Library Collections much helped in the writing of the first biography of her, published sixty years after her death.


Remembering Chris Braithwaite

Chris Braithwaite

Permission for cover provided by the author.

Historian and guest blogger Christian Høgsbjerg writes about Chris Braithwaite, who is the subject of a new exhibition ‘A Necessary Fiction’ at the Ideas Store.

The remarkable and inspiring life of the black Barbadian socialist, seafarer, trade unionist and anti-colonialist Chris Braithwaite (1885-1944) has long been overlooked, and so it is wonderful that on the centenary of the Russian Revolution, two new exhibitions in Britain have opened to pay tribute to this great working class fighter and radical. “A Necessary Fiction” is a superb art exhibition focused on Braithwaite’s anti-colonial and anti-capitalist activism in 1930s London by the artist Basil Olton, and is at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, a part of London that Braithwaite came to make his home. In another great port city, Liverpool, “Black Salt: Britain’s Black Sailors” at Merseyside Maritime Museum also rightly recognises Braithwaite’s pioneering contribution.

As a teenager, Braithwaite enrolled as a colonial seafarer in the British merchant navy to try and escape the desperate poverty of the colonial Caribbean, before settling in Chicago and raising a family. During the First World War he rejoined the merchant navy alongside many other colonial seafarers.

After the war, Braithwaite moved to the “black metropolis” of New York, and almost certainly would have witnessed a mass strike across the waterfront of that city in 1919. Many black Caribbean mariners settled in America, and some became leading politically radical Communist militants in the American working class movement like Ferdinand Smith, the Jamaican born co-founder of the National Maritime Union and the equally remarkable figure of Hugh Mulzac, who after travelling to New York from Barbados worked for a period as a ship captain on Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line.
Braithwaite instead moved to Britain and managed to secure a relatively privileged job working for the employer’s Shipping Federation in London’s Docklands, finding and supplying colonial seafarers, engineers, stokers and others, often at a few hours notice. However, he quite remarkably also immersed himself in the working class movement through the National Union of Seamen (NUS), adopting the pseudonym “Chris Jones” to avoid victimisation.

Braithwaite challenged the incredibly exploitative and oppressive experience faced by black and Asian colonial seafarers, which saw institutional state racism and the threat of deportation as well as a more informal racist scapegoating encouraged by the ship-owners under the slogan “British men for British ships” and open colluded in by the NUS.

Braithwaite joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and came to the fore fighting for working class unity as a leader of colonial seafarers and dockers in inter-war Britain and developing a reputation as a powerful orator while campaigning for the Scottsboro Boys. However like many other outstanding black radicals such as the Trinidadian Marxist George Padmore, he broke with orthodox Communism after its political sidelining of anti-colonialism after the rise of Hitler’s Nazis in 1933 and the subsequent turn to the Popular Front. Yet like Padmore, Braithwaite remained a radical socialist activist, working closely with the Independent Labour Party and throwing himself into militant Pan-Africanist agitation against fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, addressing mass International African Friends of Ethiopia rallies in Trafalgar Square.
In 1935, Braithwaite founded the Colonial Seamen’s Association, for the first time effectively bringing together black and Asian colonial seafarers in one organisation. Working alongside leading black activists like C.L.R. James, Amy Ashwood Garvey, George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta, Isaac Wallace-Johnson and Ras T Makonnen, Braithwaite also helped form the International African Service Bureau in 1937, becoming its organising secretary. He wrote a monthly column for the IASB journal, International African Opinion, ‘Seamen’s Notes’, and ensured this illegal ‘seditious’ publication was distributed through his network of radical seafarers into colonial Africa.
Like James and Padmore, Braithwaite tirelessly and eloquently articulated the case against British imperialism at mass meetings of trade unionists and socialists across Britain. All the time Braithwaite lived the life of a colonial seafarer with his family, and during the Depression he organised in his own street, Turners’ Road, in impoverished Stepney, east London, to make sure no children went hungry. After he died suddenly in 1944, black seafarers insisted on carrying his coffin from his home to his grave in tribute.

The last words might go to his good friend and comrade George Padmore, who noted that Braithwaite’s ‘death is a great loss to the cause of the colonial peoples as well as International Socialism, the finest ideals and traditions of which he upheld to the very end… He never spared himself in rendering aid to the cause of the oppressed. Many were the working-class battles and campaigns in which he gave his best … his memory will long remain as a symbol of the hopes and aspirations of his race’.

Christian Høgsbjerg is a historian and the author of Chris Braithwaite: Mariner, Renegade and Castaway (Redwords, 2014), available for £4 from


Twenty-Five Years After: Cipriani and the British West Indies Regiment after the First World War


Cover of Twenty-Five Years After

Guest blogger Michael Joseph writes about his recent research in the TUC Library. Michael is studying for a DPhil in History at the University of Oxford. His doctoral research focuses on the Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean from 1912-1939, considering the impact of the First World War on local and imperial politics in the region. (All publications shown are in the TUC Library).

Cipriani Boulevard in Port of Spain, Trinidad connects Lapeyrouse Cemetery with the Queen’s Park Savannah to its north. At one end of the street, named for his uncle and the city’s former mayor, Emmanuel Cipriani, lies the former race-course at which A.A. Cipriani enjoyed so much success as a horse trainer; at the other, the cemetery in which so many of the colony’s most prominent white, or French Creole, families, including his own, chose to bury their dead. This quirk of the urban landscape, however accidental, nonetheless highlights the unlikely journey which Cipriani made from his pre-war life as a member of the colony’s white cocoa plantocracy, to the leader of the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association (TWA) and the so-called ‘Champion of the Barefoot Man’.

Publication by the Trinidad Workingmen's Association

Publication by the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association

Cipriani’s Twenty-Five Years After. The British West Indies Regiment in the Great War 1914-1918 (1940), of which the TUC Library holds one of very few extant copies worldwide, takes us some way to understanding this process. The pamphlet comprises fourteen chapters which narrate Cipriani’s prominent role in the formation of the Trinidadian contingent of the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR), and then provide a largely operational account of the BWIR’s wartime experiences in Egypt and Palestine. This section is then followed by further chapters which deal, for example, with the BWIR detachment in the East African campaign, and Cipriani’s struggle to secure a War Office inquiry into the racism perpetrated against the BWIR at the Taranto demobilisation camp. Although published in 1940, textual clues suggest that the pamphlet, some concluding remarks dated June 1940 aside, was completed between July and August 1921 and not substantially revised prior to publication.

Portrait and biography of author A.A. Cipriani

Portrait and biography of author A.A. Cipriani

Cipriani is an important figure in my work, both for his role in the BWIR and the TWA. My research examines the relationship between the First World War and ideas of citizenship across the Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean from 1912 to 1939. I explore how West Indians at home and across the diaspora understood the war as a political and economic moment, and how the transnational discussions which fed into this process relate to the major constitutional changes of the twentieth century: independence and départementalisation.

Report by Ciprian, President of the Trinidad Workingmen's Association "to represent the interests of the working classes".

Report by Cipriani, President of the Trinidad Workingmen’s Association “to represent the interests of the working classes”.

Cipriani was instrumental in transforming the TWA into a vibrant force for self-government and, in capturing him just prior to his election as president in 1923, Twenty-Five Years After provides a valuable insight into the development of his political consciousness. We can learn much from the way the text lingers on Taranto, where the overt racism and persecution practised by the camp commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Carey-Bernard, challenged Cipriani’s former certainties about Britain and its empire. Particularly revealing is the attention devoted to Carey-Bernard’s abuse of courts-martial to target the BWIR, and the way in which Cipriani dwells on the colour bar which excluded the West Indians from certain inter-regimental sporting events. These preoccupations point to the importance to Cipriani of concepts like ‘British justice’ and ‘fair play’, which supposedly lay at the heart of what it was to be British, and the profound impact of his realisation that access to them was, in reality, dependent on whiteness. His spirited defence of the BWIR men, both at Taranto and on his return to Trinidad, was among the main reasons for his post-war popularity among the colony’s black working class.

Indeed, we see in the pamphlet how this experience of advocating for the BWIR over the course of the conflict cemented his belief in the absolute necessity of West Indian federation. By the end of the war, Cipriani was convinced that the numerous colonial governments, which had proven unable or unwilling to make their voices heard individually in defence of their men, could only face the future as a single unit. Cipriani would become one of the policy’s most vocal advocates in the 1920s.

Although sometimes lost amid the radicalism of the mid-to-late 1930s, Cipriani’s importance in the evolution of the Trinidadian labour movement and the colony’s push for self-government is unquestionable. Twenty-Five Years After goes some way to allowing us to understand his intellectual development, and my thanks go to the TUC Library for allowing me to access it.


Boris Ford and the Army Bureau of Current Affairs


Cover of Bureau of Current Affairs

Guest blogger Colin Waugh, Editor, Post-16 Educator writes about his recent research in the TUC Library.

I’m involved in an oral history-type project where, since 2013, we have interviewed 50 people who taught Liberal and General Studies in FE colleges between 1960 and about 1990. The conclusions we can draw from analysing these interviews will depend in part on what we can establish about how this element came to be attached to vocational courses for day- and block-releases students in the first place.

A key document here is a report, Liberal Education in a Technical Age (1955). This was produced by a National Institute for Adult Education (NIAE) working party. The paid secretary to this working party – and hence the likely architect of the report’s recommendations – was Boris Ford.

I needed to identify relevant aspects of Ford’s experience. In particular what, if any, involvement did he have with the Army Bureau of Current Affairs (ABCA) during World War 2, and precisely what role did he play in its civilian successor, the Bureau of Current Affairs (BCA), which existed from 1946-1952?

In 2009 I had been told by Chris Coates, at that time curator of the TUC Library Collections at London Metropolitan University, that these contained ABCA-related material, and when she reminded me of this more recently, I applied to look in the Collections for information about Ford, eventually coming to the library, which by this time had moved to Goulston Street, on 22 August this year.

Both before this visit and during it I received outstanding advice and support from Jeff Howarth and Lucy Bradley, and as a result we were able to locate two key documents. The first of these, written in 1947 by the radical general Sir Ronald Adam, shows the links between ABCA and the BCA, and the second, a pamphlet written by Ford in 1952, in which he gave a retrospective account of the BCA, both shows the role he played in that (initially as Editor in Chief, then as Director) and establishes the connection that those founding it intended to build between the BCA and further education.


The Russian Revolution and the early TUC and labour delegations


In the second of our series based on Dr Ben Phillips’s curation of our new exhibition, he looks at the early TUC and labour delegations to Russia .

Fred Bramley and the 1924 delegation visit

Above panel 7 from our new exhibition The Russian Revolution and its Impact on the Left in Britain, 1917 to 1926.

Several British labour delegations visited Russia and the Soviet Union during the period in question – one in 1917, another in 1920, a third in 1925 and finally the Women’s Delegation of 1925. Their composition and objectives varied considerably, reflecting the labour politics of their time – for instance, the 1917 delegation met with the Provisional Government and urged support for the continuation of the First World War, whereas the 1920 delegation, against the backdrop of Hands Off Russia, was staunchly anti-interventionist. Overall, the 1924 delegation is the best documented – something we owe to the personal papers of Fred Bramley, then the TUC’s General Secretary and a key participant in the delegation. All these photos you see here are from Bramley’s papers, which are held by the TUC Library. They provide us with an extraordinarily vivid – if undoubtedly partial and highly sanitised – insight into life in the early Soviet Union as seen through the eyes of foreign visitors.

The Bramley papers are, of course, personal artefacts. In my opinion, some of the most interesting and touching documents featured in this exhibition are those attesting to the interpersonal friendships and relationships interwoven through the broader solidarities and alliances on display. For various reasons, I particularly like these three below.

letter from the director of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow

The above letter is from the director of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow to the TUC, written in 1924, requesting help locating the minutes of the First International in the archives of the Bishopsgate Institute.

declaration of fraternal greetings

The letter above is a declaration of fraternal greetings to the 1924 TUC delegation from trade unionists in Soviet Central Asia, in which they promise to bestow unspecified ‘robes of honour’ on the British visitors.

The one below is probably my favourite. The woman in the photograph is Anzhelika Balabanova, then a Bolshevik and secretary of the Comintern. The photo was addressed to Margaret Bondfield, founder of the Women’s Labour League and subsequently a cabinet minister under Ramsay MacDonald. The two had first met in Switzerland in 1915 at a conference organised by the Women’s International of Socialist & Labour Organisations. When Bondfield took part in the TUC’s 1920 delegation visit to Petrograd and Moscow, they met again. The caption reads:

‘To dear comrade Margaret Bondfield. Bern 1915 – Moscow 1920. Remember how sad things looked then, and how bright and hopeful they are now in our free proletarian Russia, cradle of universal socialism.’

photograph is Anzhelika Balabanova

This optimism didn’t last. Despite having supported the Bolshevik government in 1920, Bondfield later became an anti-communist, while Balabanova emigrated to Italy only two years after this, having fallen out of favour with the Soviet authorities.


League against Imperialism and anti-colonialism

The League against Imperialism

Middle row: left to right, James Maxton (2nd left) and Shapurji Saklatvala (3rd), Reginald Bridgeman (6th).

Academic and author Priyamvada Gopal @PriyamvadaGopal has written a very interesting article in The Irish Times about resistance to Britain’s empire

This set me off searching for the League against Imperialism in the TUC Library and I was very excited to find numerous press releases, some publications and a photo from the 1920s and ’30s.

See our Pinterest page

The League against Imperialism was an international anti-imperialist organization in the period between the First and Second World Wars.

Anti-Imperialist Review

It was established in Brussels in 1927, in presence of 175 delegates from around the world. It was significant because it brought together representatives and organizations from the communist world and anti-colonial organizations and activists from the colonized world. 107 out of 175 delegates came from 37 countries under colonial rule.


The Russian Revolution, internationalism and the ‘Hands off Russia’ campaign


Dr Ben Phillips, curator of our new exhibition, starts a short series of posts based on our new Russian Revolution exhibition and his research in the TUC Library.

Title panel

As its title implies, our exhibition examines the ways in which the Russian Revolution shaped the politics of the British left during the decade following 1917. Our chosen chronology covers the period from the revolutionary events of that year to the aftermath of the 1926 General Strike, and the anti-communist turn in the British trade union movement that followed shortly thereafter. We treat the subject both chronologically and thematically, moving between the major labour history events of the period and, along the way, considering some important issues in contemporary socialist politics – for instance, internationalism, solidarity, gender, class-consciousness, and the extent to which the Russian Revolution challenged contemporary understandings of these issues.

In essence, we aimed to do two things with this exhibition.
Firstly, we wanted to explore the revolution as the global event that it was, and still is. We wanted to explore not only how the matter of the revolution – its language, imagery and so forth – was trans-nationalised in the early twentieth century, but what it meant to people in Britain at the time, how they engaged with it, appropriated it and contested its meanings.

Secondly, we wanted to take a fresh look at one of the big historical debates about the British labour movement – whether, as is often claimed, it has traditionally been ‘more Methodist than Marxist’. As is well known, the subject of external socialist influences on the labour movement, and the extent to which such influences are out of kilter with the movement’s origins in the alleged cultural conservatism of the nineteenth-century working class, remains highly contested today. And so our whole exploration of the limits of working-class internationalism has a certain contemporary relevance. That isn’t the only point of contemporary relevance, of course. Things like the Zinoviev letter and the ARCOS raid of 1927 remind us that the spectre of Russia subverting western democracy, in ways both real and imagined, has a much longer history than some today might realise.

Anyway, with those two objectives in mind, I’m going to talk a little about some of the most interesting documents and artefacts I came across when working on this project and, briefly, why I think this sort of transnational history is an important part of studying the revolution. Two of the most illuminating, not to say voluminous, bodies of material we were able to draw on were the TUC Library’s collections related to the anti-interventionist Hands Off Russia campaign, which ran from 1919 to 1924, and those related to the various TUC delegation visits to Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1925. It’s these that I’ll be focusing on in this talk.

Hands off Russia

Hands Off Russia was a campaign founded by British socialists in 1919 to oppose British involvement in the then-ongoing Russian Civil War – Allied forces having intervened in support of the White armies the previous year. The campaign continued until 1924, when it was superseded by the Anglo-Russian Parliamentary Committee after Britain’s diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union that year. Hands Off Russia drew support from both the Labour Party and Independent Labour Party, and later from the Communist Party of Great Britain, which was founded in 1920. It generated a vast quantity of literature in the way of handbills, pamphlets, newspapers, proclamations and manifestos, much of which can be found in the TUC Library.

Russia-Polish war

I think one of the really fascinating things about Hands Off Russia is what it tells us about the evolution of working-class internationalism in Britain. During the nineteenth century, hostility towards the Tsarist autocracy – perhaps expressed most vociferously during the Crimean War and after the failed Polish insurrections of 1830 and 1863 – was commonplace among the Chartists and other radicals. And yet, a little over half a century on from those events, in the summer of 1920, one finds workers threatening a general strike in opposition to proposed British military involvement in the Russo-Polish War. Note the pamphlet (above) here published by Labour’s Council of Action that year – ‘the workers of this country have nothing to gain by the contemplated attack on Russia…’.And it isn’t just that the determinants of British foreign policy were seen differently by this point. Russia itself was perceived differently by the British left. It was no longer seen as the repressive empire of the Tsars, but rather as a willing alliance of liberated nations. For instance, this Labour Party leaflet refers to the old imperial borderlands being ‘set free by the Bolshevik revolution’. The Russian specialists here will of course recognise this as the familiar Soviet mantra of druzhba narodov – the friendship of peoples, the formula typically used by Marxist-Leninist writers in later decades to distinguish the Soviet Union from Tsarist imperialism. It’s striking to see this reflected in British discourse on Soviet Russia quite so early on.

Soviet Russian Pictorial

What’s also really interesting about Hands Off Russia is the diversity of support attracted by the campaign, and the various forms which that support took. Several months after the campaign’s foundation early in 1919, Sylvia Pankhurst said that expressions of support for Soviet Russia were commonplace in virtually all socialist and trade union meetings in Britain. By 1923, British trade unionists were apparently investing in a ‘Workers’ Loan’ to Soviet Russia (above) – although unfortunately I’m not sure how many did this. The Workers’ Loan evidently had something to do with the Comintern – the advert for it here appeared in Soviet Russia Pictorial, an English-language monthly of the early 1920s that was edited from Moscow. However, such overseas support for Hands Off Russia wasn’t limited to that orchestrated by the Soviet authorities. One of the most unexpected documents ( I found in my research was this open letter to British working men written by Vladimir Chertkov, Leo Tolstoy’s former secretary and a key figure in the short-lived Tolstoyan colony at Purleigh in Essex. In his letter, Chertkov invokes the Tolstoyan principle of non-violence in calling upon the British to oppose further conflict with Russia.

Letter from Tolstoy


New Exhibition -The Russian Revolution and its Impact on the Left in Britain, 1917-1926.


The Russian Revolution and its Impact on the Left in Britain, 1917-1926

To celebrate the centenary of the Russian Revolution the TUC Library has produced an exciting new exhibition entitled The Russian Revolution and its Impact on the Left in Britain, 1917-1926.

In the years following 1917, the aftershocks of the Russian Revolution fundamentally reshaped the politics of the British left. Amidst the turmoil that extended from the end of the First World War in 1918 to the General Strike in 1926, events in Russia seemed, in the eyes of many, to offer new possibilities for political, social and economic change.

Drawing on the TUC Library’s extensive collections, this new exhibition documents the attempts of British socialists and trade unionists to interpret, emulate and come to terms with the revolution, revealing the extent to which Russia’s socialist experiment challenged accepted notions of internationalism, solidarity and class consciousness
not just at home but overseas.

This exhibition has been produced with funding from the Amiel Melburn Trust, and has been curated by Dr Ben Phillips, and designed by Becky Shand.

The exhibition is currently open to the public at the Marx Memorial Library, 37a Clerkenwell Green, London, EC1R 0DU, until the end of July 2017 and then at various venues.

To borrow this exhibition please contact me, Jeff Howarth


Walter Citrine: A union pioneer of industrial cooperation by Dr James Moher

Walter Citrine – TUC General Secretary 1926-46

Walter Citrine – TUC General Secretary 1926-46

Our guest blogger this week is Dr James Moher  (former CWU & T&GWU official)  who has written this article based on a chapter from his book  Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century, (editors P. Ackers & A.J. Reid), Palgrave-MacMillan

Liverpool born and bred, his father was a Mersey pilot/rigger and his mother a Scottish nurse. He left school at twelve to work in a dusty mill, but then found an electrical apprenticeship. He worked as an electrician all around Merseyside and south Lancashire, where he imbibed his socialist (Independent Labour Party) philosophy in the 1900s.  Self-taught, like so many of the early union leaders, he became well versed in the classic socialist texts as well as in electrical theory. He was active in the ILP and the young Labour Party (he stood for Parliament for the Tory stronghold of Wallesey in 1918), but he soon abandoned party politics for a leading union role. In 1911, he joined the Electrical Trade Union and by 1914, his evident talent as a union representative pushed him to the front as the first elected district secretary of the ETU for Merseyside. His ‘beat’ ranged from the huge Birkenhead docks to Port Sunlight (Lever Brothers) and the electrical contracting trade all over Mersey and into south Lancashire (he serviced coal mines in the then flourishing Wigan coalfield area). During the war the ETU national membership jumped from about 3,000 to 60,000. He crafted his first version of the ABC  on the conduct of meetings as notes for ETU branch officers  and it soon became part of the union’s national rulebook.

Quite left-wing at that time, (ILP with traces of quasi-syndicalism), Citrine soon rose to become ETU Assistant General Secretary at their Manchester HQ, where his administrative and negotiating skills made him stand out in the wider trade union movement. His reform of the ETU’s branch finances were regarded as crucial to its survival in those days. His service as Secretary and President of the regional Federation of Engineering and Shipbuilding Trades until 1923, also helped.  He was appointed AGS of the TUC in 1924 and on the sudden death of Fred Bramley, became the Acting General Secretary in the feverish atmosphere of the 1926 General Strike. In this capacity, he officered the General Council leadership in all the negotiations with the Miners’ Union and the government and was elected to the substantive post without opposition, The defeat of the ‘Great Strike’ and its aftermath shaped his general-ship of the TUC from that time. That generation of union leaders, especially, but by no means exclusively, Ernest Bevin of the T&GWU and General Council from 1925, would take the TUC away from its quasi-syndicalist stance of the previous decades.

But it was Citrine, with the team of able officers he recruited and led – Walter Milne-Bailey, Vincent Tewson and George Woodcock, (the latter two would later succeed him) – who helped make it a centre of excellence for the trade union movement of those desperate days. It was respected by all   of its two hundred or so affiliated unions and taken seriously by governments of all colours.

During the Great Depression (1928-34), the TUC initiated a new style of engagement with the major employers of the day (the Mond-Turner conferences), which created a better climate for union recruitment and collective bargaining on the up-swing of trade from the mid 1930s. Though the TUC leadership struck out on an independent path under Citrine’s guidance, ‘the contentious alliance’ was a real partnership with the Labour Party and the 1929-31 government.  That is until they fell out bitterly with the MacDonald leadership over its handling of the 1931 financial crisis and the ensuing ‘National’ government.  In the aftermath of the Parliamentary Labour Party slaughter of the 1931 elections, (down to forty-six MPs), Citrine, as Secretary of the Joint (TUC/Labour NEC) National Council , contributed significantly to Labour’s electoral recovery and policy revamp. That NJC developed the radical programme of welfare, NHS and nationalisation policies with the Lansbury & Attlee leaderships, which the majority Labour government of 1945-51 implemented.  

"ABC of Chairmanship" by Walter Citrine

“ABC of Chairmanship” by Walter Citrine

Citrine has a reputation for being a right-wing anti-communist, which is grossly unfair. He had been a strong supporter of both Russian Revolutions (what he called, Lenin’s vision of an ‘electric Republic’). He was one of the first to visit in 1925, at the specific request of the All-Russian union leader and Politburo member, Mikhail Tomsky. He had supported closer links between Soviet unions and the IFTU, until the Comintern launched a tirade of abuse at the TUC General Council over their calling off of the General Strike in 1927.  Though critical of what he saw, he went again in 1935 and led a delegation there in 1941 to strengthen the British-Soviet alliance, as Hitler’s armies converged on Moscow. He was there again in 1945 with a TUC delegation and in 1956 led a delegation of the nationalised Electricity Council, of which he was then chair.

But it was Citrine who had also led the TUC fightback against the scurrilous attacks on the General Council by the Comintern and its local agents, the Communist Party of Great Britain and its front the Minority Movement after the defeat of the General Strike.  He produced a pamphlet in 1927 exposing the communist attempt to take over the leadership of the British trade unions.  That earned him the undying hatred of the CPGB/Comintern and their Daily Worker  – he and Bevin won major libel actions against them.  This hostility carried into the Left of the Labour Party (Bevan, Cripps and the Socialist League), as their politics failed to capture the leadership of the Labour Party.  Perhaps Citrine (and especially Bevin) were to some degree intolerant of legitimate dissent, viewing all criticism as the expression of the sinister communist conspiracy.  But it is accepted today, even by some historians of the CPGB, that there was a serious attempt in the late 1920s (about 150 British activists trained in the Lenin school to foment revolution in Britain). It is less well recognised that in the aftermath of the Parliamentary Party collapse in 1931, it was the TUC and NJC which gave the key leads on the abandonment of disarmament, and the fight against appeasement as well as the major policy programme revamp which laid the foundation for the post-war Labour government.  Citrine, as Secretary of the NJC was at the centre of this work. It was his global perspective as President of the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), based in Berlin during the rise of Nazism, which enabled him to warn and promote the anti-fascist campaigns of the late 1930s.

During World War 2, Sir Walter, who declined Ministerial office, was made a Privy Councillor by Churchill. They had developed a closer relationship, sharing platforms on anti-fascist rallies in the late 1930s. During the Blitz, they had frequent sessions alone at Downing Street, keeping their spirits up reciting patriotic poetry. However, Citrine appreciated that it was his role at the TUC which gave him this enormous status and influence with the government at that time. At every level, from shop floor production committees upwards, union reps and officials were drawn into the war effort in an unprecedented way.  As a Privy Councillor, Citrine had immediate access to Ministers across government, and sat on various national bodies with Ministers, along with other union colleagues.  It was, of course, Bevin, as Minister of Labour and Social Insurance, who captured the public imagination and the limelight, as the proletarian figurehead of the coalition.  By the end of the war, as Attlee’s closest ally, it was Bevin who became the most senior Minister and Foreign Secretary in the 1945 government.

What is less well known was the key role Citrine played as plenipotentiary for Churchill abroad. As IFTU President, Citrine was invited to attend the annual convention of the American Federation of Labour at San Francisco in 1940, to help the AFL leadership (and President Roosevelt) to counter the strong isolationism prevalent in the USA, especially in the unions. Again, when the Soviet Union was invaded by Germany in 1941, it was Citrine, realising the significance of the Soviets’ entry to the war, who took a TUC delegation to Moscow, (just as the Germans was closing on it!), to discuss how the Allies could assist and bolster their resistance. There is a major story to be ferreted out about these initiatives, which continued with Citrine’s foreign trips throughout the war.

With that ‘clout’, Citrine was one of the few who could ‘stand up to Ernie’ as Minister of Labour, with his enormous power in directing labour (he wasn’t known as ‘Napoleon’ Bevin at the TUC for nothing!). His decisions (or those of his civil servants) were often controversial for both unions and employers and it sometimes fell to Citrine as TUC General Secretary, to raise awkward issues.  They had never been personally close, though their complementarity since the General Strike was key to the TUC’s success in establishing such a strong position with employers and governments.  Now, though it was Citrine who influenced Bevin’s elevation to the Cabinet in 1940, that complementarity broke down. Long after they had both left the scene, he describes some of their rows in the second volume of his excellent memoir, Two Careers (1967).  In 1941, they had a real bust up over Bevin’s insistence on deploying skilled workers contrary to   their unions’ wishes. Citrine was asked to intercede but Bevin and his civil servants were not moved. When some mild criticism appeared in the pages of the Daily Herald (the TUC/Odhams’ mass circulation daily on whose Board Citrine sat), Ernie blew his top. In a public speech which was reported widely, he attacked the editor and by implication Citrine, as Quislings.  This caused great offence, though Citrine did not hit back. Things were so bad that Attlee wrote to both urging calm in the interests of the war effort. It passed over, but things would never be the same between them. 

Although he left school at twelve, Citrine, like so many union officials of that era, was a self-taught union leader. He became a prolific writer and developed an attractive style, producing many books as well as a host of journal articles on every conceivable labour movement topic since about 1914.  

When the war was over, Citrine retired from the TUC and IFTU, and took up membership of the newly-nationalised Coal Board. He performed a health & safety and educational role for a year in 1946, but it may have seemed like a major come-down after his prominence during the war.  He was ennobled, becoming Baron Citrine of Wembley (where he had lived since 1925). A year later, Attlee offered him the Chair of the Electricity Authority, which for a former electrician, was a dream post.  He held that position for a decade, retiring finally from a further five year part-time stint in 1960. After that he attended the Lords more and contributed frequently. He and his inseparable partner, Doris (she accompanied him on most of his foreign trips) had two sons, Norman and Ronald. Norman, a solicitor, became legal adviser to the TUC in 1946 and wrote an influential book on Trade Union law.   Doris died in 1973 and Walter moved to Devon where he lived another decade, being ninety-five when he died in 1983.

It could be argued that it was Walter Citrine who put the TUC ‘on the map’. Yet there is no biography to bring together the many-faceted dimensions of his life and times in a lively way to bring it alive for today’s generations of union activists and the public. It is a record we should be proud of and would go some way to restore our image.   


Kieran McGovern and the Mallow Shootings of 1921 – Part 2

Title page of Mallow Shootings

An Account of the Mallow Shootings by Barbara Hammond

The shooting had featured in many acrimonious debates in the House of Commons. In one of these, Labour’s “Jimmy” Thomas M.P., General Secretary of the National Union Of Railwaymen, stated in a speech to the House, on 15 February 1921, that

“We are not going to have our members murdered in cold blood without a proper inquiry and will insist that when our men are on duty during the curfew hours they shall not be dragged off and shot like dogs, without charge or trial”.

He then added, ominously, that

“Disturbing questions demanded answers; and those answers, of themselves, may prove to be disturbing and unsettling of Government policy”.

“Jimmy” was clearly on to something! He specifically referred to the preceding shooting dead of Alice and the wounding of her husband, Captain W.H. King, RIC.

Subsequently, on 14 June 1921, “Jimmy” Thomas’s Labour M.P. colleague and ally, John Joseph (“Jack”) Jones, was moved to greet Sir Hamar Greenwood (Chief Secretary for Ireland) as he entered the Common’s chamber with: “Three cheers for the Chief Assassin”. This caused a spontaeous uproar of protests from Government benches which only encouraged Jones (as he was ordered out of the House by the Speaker) to shout

“You are nothing but a damned gang of assassins, the whole damn lot of you”.

What had could have prompted such an un-parliamentary, oath-laden, outburst?

The shootings at Mallow had forced the Government to set up a Military Court of Inquiry into the affair. Reports (mostly censored in Ireland) of the proceedings were carried in every corner of the Empire and across the world. The Inquiry was presided over by Brigadier General H.R. Cumming, DSO. It heard evidence over a number of days during which it became obvious that something very untoward had taken place at the station on the night in question. RIC County Inspector William King and his wife, Alice, (nee King – not related) had been ambushed as they walked past the station wall. A volley of shots rang out and Alice fell, mortally wounded (she died the following morning). When the shots were heard, large numbers of reinforcements arrived from the town (RIC, Black and Tans, and military, along with members of the dreaded Auxiliaries). Mayhem ensued. Two public bars, one on each platform, were pillaged until, as one newspaper prudently reported “they were innocent of beverage”. Indiscriminate gunfire ensued as Crown Forces wreaked revenge. A number of railwaymen were shot dead while others were seriously wounded. All sorts of cock and bull stories were peddled to the Inquiry team – the general trust being that the ambush on Captain King and his wife had been perpetrated by members of a local IRA Flying Column.

From careful reading of the records (however truncated from censorship) it became apparent to me that not all was as it might appear. Indeed, it was also clear that the President of the Inquiry (Brgd. Gen. Cumming) was not at all impressed with Crown witnesses nor their obviously coached and evasive answers. Cumming, stunned at what was being slowly dragged from one Auxiliary witness in particular, judiciously adjourned the Inquiry ¬ostensibly to visit the site of the shootings. However, within days he too was shot dead during an IRA ambush at Clonbanin, Co. Cork, (in what, to me, appeared to be very unusually accurate circumstances). The Official Report on the Mallow Court of Inquiry (Cmd. 1220; HMSO, 1921: Price 1d), signed–off somewhat hastily by a substitute member of the Inquiry team (in lieu of Brgd. Gen. Cumming, then deceased) is a carefully constructed piece of “official-speak” which, if read one way, points unwaveringly at IRA involvement. However, if read challengingly from all perspectives, and contextualizingly, the Report is, to say the least, ambivalent.

Convinced that the Official Report was, in keeping with what many believed at the time, a “white wash”, I began to carefully sift through all available material. I discovered a little known account, published in 1921 by British war correspondent and journalist, J. L. Hammond, which in turn convinced me that he and his wife had been in Mallow at the time of the shooting and one, or both, had in fact, attended the Inquiry. In his article, Hammond, obliquely though searchingly, parsed the Findings of the Official Report; he was careful to preserve his ‘correspondent/journalist’ status as the proceedings had been subject to strictly enforced censorship regulations. Notwithstanding his caution, he too narrowly escaped being shot dead soon afterwards by Auxiliaries in Tralee, Co. Kerry.

However, pondering Hammond’s circumstances, I realised that his wife, Barbara L., was a formidable women in her own right. She, in collaboration with her husband, had been the co-author of The Labourer trilogy (Village, Town and Skilled). Sure enough, further searching elicited the fact that she had indeed attended the Inquiry and had published a pamphlet, having been specifically commissioned by “Jimmy” Thomas to do so. Both Thomas and “Jack” Jones were suspicious that a cover-up had taken place at the Inquiry in Mallow but both were politically spancelled from speaking outside the privilege of the House – as described above.

It was known that such a pamphlet by Barbara Hammond did exist (it had been referenced, spaingly, by a small number of writers) but what of its whereabouts? Months, indeed years, of searching and probing failed to produce a single trace of an extant copy. The more intensive the search the more it appeared to me that there had been something mentioned by Hammond in her document that had been unsettling of the accepted narrative. L(Lucy) Barbara Hammond, member of The Fabian Society, had made no secret that she not only attended every session of the Inquiry but that she had, indeed, written a detailed twentythree-page report on the procedings for “Jimmy” Thomas.

How come no copy of her report seemed to have survived? Seeking an answer to that question stymied my research for years. My pursuit of an answer – an answer that would, most assuredly, eventually come to pass – was reinforced by my discovery (to be dealt with in my forthcoming publication) that even an entire section of a debate in the House of Lords, prompted by the events that had taken place in Mallow and scathingly delivered by none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury, were not publicly available at the time. Indeed, it was not until 2015, following a Sherlock Holmes-like pursuit (by yours truly) that the glaring “omission” of the entire debate from the digitised Hansard record was finally brought to light. If such a record could, somehow, be “overlooked”, and eventually rumbled, then surely so could Barbara Hammiond’s pamphlet.

The total absence of a copy, anywhere, of the Hammond document led me to conclude that, due to ruthless censorship, all copies had either been purposely withdrawn and/or destroyed soon after publication. I was wholly satisfied that no copy had ever reached the Irish branch of the N.U.R. But where was it?

The “missing bullet”, so to speak, was just that – gone missing without trace.

Until, that is, a casual mention to a colleague in early 2017, about the mysterious vanishing of Barbara Hammond’s report drew an astonishingly innocent response – he had a recollection of having seen a copy of just such a report while undertaking research at the TUC Library based at London Metropolitan University but had not placed any significance on it as it was not relevant to his interest at the time.

A request was sent to the TUC Library which drew the response that, YES, the University did indeed possess such a document. It was to be the 1921 version of what I considered to be an incunabula. Eureka.

(Joint Author of “The Village Labourer”)
Prepared specially for the N.U.R. at the
request of Rt. Hon. J.H. Thomas M.P.
(Price Sixpence)*
Sure enough, the pamphlet proved to be a contemporaneous account of the circumstances that took place on the night in question. It provides some names of police officers and, while analyzing the Official Inquiry Report in detail, states that there were deep suspicions extant in Mallow at the time to the effect that a member (or members) of the Crown Forces was the real culprit who shot Alice King dead. That contemporary conclusion confirms my own firmly held conviction that Captain King had placed an Auxiliary Officer under a disciplinary charge and that the Auxiliary (with an accomplice) had lain in ambush to eliminate Captain King and have the finger of guilt pointed at the IRA. Tragically, in the dark of that drizzly night, with wild shooting at an indistinct target, Alice King was shot dead and her husband wounded.

The report is the final piece of evidence in a complex story, I am now able to conclude my research on the murder of Alice King in January 1921. Someone – perhaps Barbara Hammond or Jimmy Thomas (or, more likely, Jack Jones)– had seen to it that a copy of her report should be preserved so that it would ultimately show up and eventually “beat the insidious system”, albeit sometime in the distant future.

A firm hunch, honed during my years of middle ground endeavours in the region where the foul deed had been perpetrated, that “the truth will always out” has proven its worth – thanks to the TUC LIbrary at London Metropolitan University.

Now, my tentatively named “A SHOT THAT SHOOK AN EMPIRE” is in the final stages of completion, in preparation for submission for publication.

Kieran McGovern,


April 2017.